Thursday, March 06, 2008

And more and more and more

I believe it was Publishers Lunch that had a link to Stephen Page's article in the UK's Guardian newspaper regarding e-books and publishing and reading in general. Page, who judging by his name was born to be in publishing, is the Publisher at Faber & Faber. His point in this article is that publishing must change to accomodate a changing world. We can still offer readers a diversity of books and authors, but we may have to publish this diversity with heightened awareness to online communities, which he likens to "intellectuals gathered in cafes in 1900s Vienna." Readers fascinated by considerations of early sci-fi novels may not all be in one geographical place, but they are found "gathered" online, so publishers need to find ways to reach that readership.

He explains how his house will start making 20th copyright titles available as print on demand, a system which has "a transforming effect on the long tail of books." This makes sense to me, though it is of course controversial as we know from the flair up with the Author's Guild and Simon & Schuster last year. What I find interesting is how Page's frustration with the lack of diverse books in bookstores fits so well with other industry news out today: the success of Borders' concept store.

Page says:
As has proved the case for film, music and television, the book world is now experiencing a concentration on fewer books derived from an obsession with bestsellers and celebrity, and an increasing sense that what is good is that which sells large volumes. As a result most serious or marginal books now begin life with a decreasing exposure in bookshops.
And Publishers Weekly reports on the Borders store:
Jones said Borders' two-week old concept store has greatly exceeded expectations. He noted that while the company has reduced the number of titles in the store by about 20% from a typical superstore, unit sales have increased, something he attributed in part to displaying more books face out.
You see how that works? Fewer different books to overwhelm the customer. They buy more when they have fewer options. And then everyone's reading the same thing!

Borders has been working on this strategy for years. When I worked at a Borders store in 2001-2002, the store manager was already telling me this plan, how they'd decrease volume and put more books face-out, with whole sections bought by publishers, all their books in that section on prominent display. I guess the concept store is bearing this out. Frightening.

These stores do not owe the public as much as the libraries do. In fact, they don't owe us anything unless we make demands. Where is the leverage? Well, they are taking up space in your community. They are pushing independents out, some of which are run by smart owners who listen to the community and sell books that fit that community's needs and desires. So Borders or B&N for that matter barge in, bankrupt the other stores, and then limit your choices.

But realistically, people will natually just go online rather than seek out an independent. (When I was traveling recently, I wanted to go to an independent store, so I got on the Booksense website and looked one up. The closest indie was 16 miles from where I was - and ya know what? It sucked hard: a few new titles and then a bunch of used mass markets. If I lived here, I'd end up online or in a chain store.) And then we're back to Page's point, that this is where publishers can find communities interested in more niche titles.

The question then is, do we throw up our hands and go with this, leaving the bricks-and-mortar behind? And if so, how will we manage to get new ideas into this closed system? I guess that's viral, and viral marketing will only increase.

I'd like to point out two more things today, because there's a lot happening, I guess. First, also from Publishers Weekly:

PW has learned that Riverhead editor Sarah McGrath, who acquired Margaret Seltzer’s Love & Consequences for Scribner but brought it with her to Riverhead, was involved in another book, in 2006, that was cancelled because of fabrications and plagiarism. The book, How to Wear Black: Adventures on Fashion's Front-line, was purportedly a memoir of Emily Davies's four years as a fashion writer for London's Times, and according to Publishers Lunch, it lifted the lid on "a surreal, luxurious and terrifying world of lavish gifts, fashionably skeletal obsessives and couture warfare." According to Lunch, Sarah McGrath bought the book for Scribner; the announcement was posted in mid-December 2005.

In March 2006 Galley Cat reported that the deal, "rumored to be up to $900,000 for U.S. rights alone," was struck down after a story in Women's Wear Daily outlined Davies's fabrications and plagiarism. Scribner
cancelled Davies's contract and the NY Daily News quoted Scribner's Suzanne Balaban as saying "we've dropped" Davies's book.

Oh Sarah!

And from Alternet, speaking of new ideas and free speech, it is well worth checking out this interview with Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong'o. A good quote from the interview:
But I think a repressive regime always fears people who are awakened -- particularly ordinary people. If they are awakened, I think governments all over the world feel uncomfortable about that; they want to be in control. (Laughs) They want to be the ones telling people: "This is what we have done in history" but when people begin to say, "No this is what we have done in history" it's a different thing.

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